UConn trio helps secure third title


SAN ANTONIO -- Death, they say, comes in threes.

And on this cool Texas night, it was true. A troika of 6-foot-2 assassins in Husky blue and white bludgeoned Oklahoma into a crimson mess. Tamika Williams, Swin Cash and Ashja Jones led Connecticut to an 82-70 national championship victory with elbows and box-outs and shoulder bumps and arm bars and, oh yeah, 51 points, including a 20-point performance from Cash, the Final Four Most Outstanding Player who also pulled down 13 rebounds, six offensive.

Rubberneckers at the Alamodome winced as Sooners dared enter the lane like oily teens going into haunted houses in bad horror movies -- Don't Go In There! -- and got crushed. By halfway through the first half, OU All-American Stacy Dales looked like a stunt double from "Fight Club."

"They are the most relentless rebounding group in the history of the game," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. "I don't know about them being the greatest team in the history of the world, but their offensive rebounding has to be the best ever."

The triumvirate exited the Huskies locker room before the game with the rest of the team, but then dropped back to plot among themselves. With unblinking stares, quick gestures and hushed voices, they planned the demise of their victims as they entered the arena. "No matter what," Jones recalls them agreeing, "we will defend the post and be big on the boards."

Were they ever. The three outrebounded the Sooners 31-25 by themselves. They outblocked OU 8-2 by themselves. And with guards Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi a combined 8-for-25 (and 0-for-9 from 3-point range), the three essentially won the title game by themselves.

With flawless rebounding and angry shot-altering, Williams, Jones and Cash smashed every shard of Sooner momentum into a billion pieces. In the second half, when Oklahoma guard LaNeishea Caufield came up with a steal and dribbled in on a breakaway, Cash swooped in from behind and swatted Caufield's Easter bunny deep into the woods.

Caufield was not the only victim. Later in that second half, Dales nailed a 3 and trotted down the court with a smile. But waiting for her at the top of the key was Cash, who promptly delivered an elbow to the chops. Center Jamie Talbert missed an easy layup that would have put the charging Sooners within two late in the first half. She missed, Williams devoured the rebound, and UConn ran off eightvstraight points to end the half and, basically, the game. Just a bad break for Talbert? Hardly. More like terror.

"I was thinking they were going to block my shot," Talbert said. "I was timid and I shied away."

The whole evening was so appropriate for this perfect season. The Huskies won so methodically and inevitably -- by an average of 35.4 points per game -- that it was at times too gory to watch. Just ask Boston College coach Cathy Inglese, who took her team on a marvelous run to the Big East title game only to lose by 42. After the drubbing, Inglese said she would cry in frustration if UConn wasn't doing the same thing to everyone.

Including Oklahoma. The underdogs went into halftime down 12 -- their biggest intermission deficit in 62 games. Can you imagine the look on Bobby Knight's face if his team got outscored in a championship first half by a dozen? But no men's team is or will ever be as dominant -- and as merciless -- as these Huskies. "Being down 12 at halftime," Dales said, "isn't so bad against Connecticut."

And oh, the historians will look at this perfect season and trumpet smooth Sue and dynamic Diana. Heck, Pat Summitt called the duo the best backcourt she has ever seen. But Bird and Taurasi only raised the bar for the 1s and 2s that will come after. Williams, Jones and Cash -- with their merciless execution and featherlike touch -- left a mark like a boot in the posterior. Their legacy might linger much longer than anything else about this perfect team.

Eric Adelson is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine.